Parents’ Sideline Behaviour at Sport | How to manage the risk at the sidelines

parents sideline behaviour

January 24, 2022

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Whether you are involved in organising children’s sport, or you are a parent watching on from the sidelines, chances are you will have witnessed poor parent behaviour in some form.

Poor sideline behaviour can vary from mild through to shocking, and it is such a concern that in Australia there are tens of thousands of searches made online every year by people looking to resolve this issue.

This behaviour is not exclusive to team sports. Parents in solo sports also witness poor behaviour, sometimes directed towards their own or other people’s children. Naturally, this can put observers and organisers in a challenging position.


‘Do I say something?’

‘It’s their child, should I mind my own business?’


Regardless of the sport you or your children are involved in, wouldn’t it be brilliant if this year your sport,  club or association could eradicate problematic parents’ sideline behaviour? The good news is, it is possible. 


Bad Spectator Behaviour During Sport


Poor spectator behaviour in individual sports and in the team context can present in both strong and subtle forms. This is not an exhaustive list, but some examples include:


  • Verbal abuse
  • Physical abuse
  • Violence
  • Bullying
  • Racial, sexual or gender discrimination
  • Negative dialogue or discrimination of other children
  • Abuse of umpires – verbal or physical
  • Parents undermining an umpire to their own child
  • Spectators undermining umpires
  • Criticising or blaming players
  • Encouraging others to criticise or blame players 


When these behaviours are allowed to play out on the sidelines in our sports, it teaches children that as a community we accept that people speak poorly, are abusive or discriminatory and blame others, without consequence. It encourages poor sportsmanship. 

While it is incredibly important for kids to be encouraged to try harder, make better decisions in competition and enjoy some big wins along the way, sport is also a place for other important life lessons.

Sport is where children develop their social skills and learn about health, fitness and wellness. For that reason, the environments children learn those skills in, must be healthy too. If children are learning to blame others, be abusive to strangers, or to be overly-competitive, they are learning bad habits that may harm them not just on the sporting field, but in all aspects of their life. 


Consequences of poor sideline behaviour 


So what are the consequences of poor behaviour from the sidelines?

In competition, there are a range of possible consequences including:


  • Penalties being awarded against the team or a player
  • Loss of Premiership points
  • Being kicked out of a competition
  • Reputational damage to a team, club or organisation
  • Financial damage to a club or organisation


For the children themselves, the consequences of exposing them to poor role models and tolerating  negative behaviours can lead to a lack of respect for authority. And where parents are behaving poorly, it has been seen to contribute to children experiencing significant embarrassment or anxiety, or a reduced sense of safety.

Where violence has occurred from the sidelines, the consequences can be significant. For example, in South Australia, at a girls’ junior football match in 2021, an umpire, and the umpire’s parents, were assaulted by a parent. The incident was investigated and the consequences were that the parent was found to be responsible for the assaults and consequently suspended from future games. In some cases we have had in tennis or go-karting, the child is held responsible and suspended for a parent’s poor behaviour. Additionally, both clubs were fined over the incident. Worldwide, there have been instances where referees or umpires have been murdered or suffered serious physical injuries at the hands of spectators or players for decisions made during a game. 

As an umpire myself, I’ve seen many issues, particularly in sports that are very physical. Where there is a  lot of passion, as will often be the case with children’s sport, there may be more incidents. 


The risk for clubs and organisations


However sporting organisations large and small can experience additional consequences from these types of issues. It is not uncommon for investigations to reveal that, for example, the code of conduct was found not to be enforced by the club, or that there were insufficient policies in place, or there was not proper awareness or circulation of policies. This is where legal claims can arise. When a club or organisation is required to seek legal representation to deal with an issue like this, it can have a significant impact on the club and its finances, as well as its reputation in the community. Sometimes it can spell the end of sporting organisation all together.


The risk for high performers


When poor behaviour from the sidelines isn’t managed, it can also contribute to limitations for high performing children with a bright sporting future. Children may learn bad habits from their parents which they carry themselves into their lives. This may have a negative impact on their own sports career or participation. A captaincy for instance, isn’t often given to participants who aren’t good role models or don’t demonstrate good sportspersonship. Positions on teams are won and lost when poor behaviour contributes to them being too much of a risk. The culture children are immersed in shapes them, so what we accept and allow in their sporting environments is serious business.


So what can be done to manage poor behaviour at the sidelines?


For people who organise training, competitions and give their time and energy to all the other tasks that come hand in hand with organised sport, what is a realistic way to manage and minimise these risks?

Committee or board members need to organise to have their Constitution reviewed, to identify by-laws or policies that are missing or are outdated. Member Protection policies or those relating to LGBTIQ participation, codes of conduct, social media, child safety or discipline are a few that spring to mind.

When we review a Constitution and supporting documents, we can identify if there are any immediate  risks and if required, identify solutions to reduce or remove those risks. A review may result in, along with a player’s code of conduct, there being a Parent’s Code of Conduct or Spectator Code of Conduct created for parents. 

When issues are proactively identified and solutions put into place, there is then an established process that can be followed when problems arise. When parents are aware of the expectations and the consequences of their poor sideline behaviour, it can be managed effectively.

With many sports returning after the school holidays, now is the time to have your club or organisation’s  Constitution or Policies reviewed, to start the year on the right foot. 


Article by Alexandria Anthony


Related articles: Sports Clubs & Organisations | What to know to make 2022 your best year yet

Team Culture In Sports: Creating A Thriving Club Culture

Enhancing Culture, Finances & On-Field Performance in Sports Clubs

Striking a Balance: Child Protection in Sport and Effective Management of Allegations


Our team specialises in working with sporting organisations of all sizes, across all capital cities and regions of Australia. We focus on managing and minimising your risk so you can focus on your sport.  To enquire about a review of policies or constitution, fill in this form or call our office on 03) 9642 0435.